Basic income

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On 4 October 2013, Swiss activists from Generation Grundeinkommen organized a performance in Bern in which roughly 8 million coins, one coin representing one person out of Switzerland's population, were dumped on a public square. This was done in celebration of the successful collection of more than 125,000 signatures, forcing the government to hold a referendum in 2016 on whether or not to incorporate the concept of basic income in the federal constitution. The measure did not pass, with 76.9% voting against changing the federal constitution to support basic income.[1]

Basic income, also called universal basic income, citizen's income, citizen's basic income in the United Kingdom, basic income guarantee in the United States and Canada, or basic living stipend or universal demogrant, is a periodic payment delivered to all on an individual basis without means test or work requirement.[2] The incomes would be:

  • Unconditional: A basic income would vary with age, but with no other conditions. Everyone of the same age would receive the same basic income, whatever their gender, employment status, family structure, contribution to society, housing costs, or anything else.
  • Automatic: Someone's basic income would be automatically paid weekly or monthly into a bank account or similar.
  • Non-withdrawable: Basic incomes would not be means-tested. Whether someone's earnings increase, decrease, or stay the same, their basic income will not change.
  • Individual: Basic incomes would be paid on an individual basis and not on the basis of a couple or household.
  • As a right: Every legal resident would receive a basic income, subject to a minimum period of legal residency and continuing residency for most of the year.[3]

Basic income can be implemented nationally, regionally or locally. An unconditional income that is sufficient to meet a person's basic needs (at or above the poverty line) is sometimes called a full basic income while if it is less than that amount, it is sometimes called partial. A welfare system with some characteristics similar to those of a basic income is a negative income tax in which the government stipend is gradually reduced with higher labour income. Some welfare systems are sometimes regarded as steps on the way to a basic income, but because they have conditionalities attached they are not basic incomes. If they raise household incomes to specified minima they are called guaranteed minimum income systems. For example, Bolsa Família in Brazil is restricted to poor families and the children are obligated to attend school.[4]

Several political discussions are related to the basic income debate. Examples include the debates regarding robotization, artificial intelligence (AI), and the future of work. A key issue in these debates is whether robotisation and AI will significantly reduce the number of available jobs. Basic income often comes up as a proposal in these discussions.

History[edit]

The idea of a state-run basic Income dates back to the early 16th century, when Sir Thomas More's Utopia depicted a society in which every person receives a guaranteed income.[5] In the late 18th century, English radical Thomas Spence and American revolutionary Thomas Paine both declared their support for a welfare system that guaranteed all citizens a certain income. Nineteenth-century debate on basic income was limited, but during the early part of the 20th century a basic income called a "state bonus" was widely discussed, and in 1946 the United Kingdom implemented unconditional family allowances for the second and subsequent children of every family. In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States and Canada conducted several experiments with negative income taxation, a related welfare system. From the 1980s and onward, the debate in Europe took off more broadly and since then it has expanded to many countries around the world. A few countries have implemented large-scale welfare systems that have some similarities to basic income, such as Bolsa Família in Brazil. From 2008 onward, several experiments with basic income and related systems have taken place.

Governments can contribute to individual and household income maintenance strategies in three ways:

  1. The government can establish a minimum income guarantee and not allow income to fall below levels set for various household types, maintaining these levels by paying means-tested benefits.
  2. Social insurance can pay benefits in the case of sickness, unemployment, or old age, on the basis of contributions paid
  3. Universal unconditional payments, such as the United Kingdom's Child Benefit for children.[6]

In more detail:

  1. A means-tested benefit that raises a household's income to a guaranteed minimum level is unlike a basic income in that income delivered under a system of guaranteed minimum income is reduced proportionally as other sources of income increase whereas income received from a basic income is constant regardless of other sources of income. Johannes Ludovicus Vives (1492–1540), for example, proposed that the municipal government should be responsible for securing a subsistence minimum to all its residents "not on grounds of justice but for the sake of a more effective exercise of morally required charity". However, Vives also argued that to qualify for poor relief the recipient must "deserve the help he or she gets by proving his or her willingness to work".[7]
  2. The first to develop the idea of a social insurance was Marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794). After playing a prominent role in the French Revolution, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. While in prison, he wrote the Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain (published posthumously by his widow in 1795), whose last chapter described his vision of a social insurance and how it could reduce inequality, insecurity and poverty. Condorcet mentioned, very briefly, the idea of a benefit to all children old enough to start working by themselves and to start up a family of their own. He is not known to have said or written anything else on this proposal, but his close friend and fellow member of the Constitutional Convention Thomas Paine (1737–1809) developed the idea much further, a couple of years after Condorcet's death.
  3. The first social movement for Basic Income developed around 1920 in the United Kingdom. Its proponents included Bertrand Russell, Dennis Milner (with his wife Mabel) and C. H. Douglas.
  • Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) argued for a new social model that combined the advantages of socialism and anarchism, and that basic income should be a vital component in that new society.
  • Dennis and Mabel Milner, a Quaker married couple in the Labour Party, published a short pamphlet entitled "Scheme for a State Bonus" (1918) that argued for the "introduction of an income paid unconditionally on a weekly basis to all citizens of the United Kingdom". They considered it a moral right for everyone to have the means to subsistence, and thus it should not be conditional on work or willingness to work.
  • C. H. Douglas was an engineer who became concerned that most British citizens could not afford to buy the goods that were produced, despite the rising productivity in British industry. His solution to this paradox was a new social system he called social credit, a combination of monetary reform and basic income.

In 1944 and 1945, the Beveridge Committee led by the British economist William Beveridge developed a proposal for a comprehensive new welfare system of social insurance, means-tested benefits and unconditional allowances for children. Committee member Lady Rhys-Williams argued that the incomes for adults should be more like a basic income. She was also the first to develop the negative income tax model.[8][9] Her son Brandon Rhys Williams proposed a basic income to a parliamentary committee in 1982 and soon after that in 1984 the Basic Income Research Group, now the Citizen's Basic Income Trust, began to conduct and disseminate research on basic income.[10]

In the 1960s and 1970s, some welfare debates in the United States and Canada included discussions of basic income. Six pilot projects were also conducted with the negative income tax. Then President Richard Nixon once even proposed a negative income tax in a bill to the Congress, but Congress eventually only approved a guaranteed minimum income for the elderly and the disabled, not for all citizens, thus:[11]

Nixon proposed more ambitious programs than he enacted, including the National Health Insurance Partnership Program, which promoted health maintenance organizations (HMOs). He also proposed a massive overhaul of federal welfare programs. The centerpiece of Nixon's welfare reform was the replacement of much of the welfare system with a negative income tax, a favorite proposal of conservative economist Milton Friedman. The purpose of the negative income tax was to provide both a safety net for the poor and a financial incentive for welfare recipients to work.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s, basic income was more or less forgotten in the United States, but it started to gain some traction in Europe. Basic Income European Network, later renamed to Basic Income Earth Network, was founded in 1986 and started to arrange international conferences every two years.[2] From the 1980s, some people outside party politics and universities took interest. In West Germany, groups of unemployed people took a stance for the reform.[12]

From 2010 onwards, Basic Income again became an active topic in many countries. Basic income is currently discussed from a variety of perspectives—including in the context of ongoing automation and robotisation, often with the argument that these trends mean less paid work in the future, which would create a need for a new welfare model. Several countries are planning for local or regional experiments with basic income or related welfare systems. For example, experiments in Canada, Finland, India and Namibia have received international media attention. The first and only national referendum about basic income was held in Switzerland in 2016. The result was a rejection of the basic income proposal by a vote of 76.9% to 23.1%.

Perspectives in the basic income debate[edit]

Automation[edit]

Andrew Yang holding a microphone while making a speech
Entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic candidate Andrew Yang has advocated for a basic income to counter job displacement through automation. His basic income policy, the Freedom Dividend, aims to give every American adult $1000 a month.

The debates about basic income and automation are closely linked. For example, Mark Zuckerberg argues that the increase in automation creates a greater need for basic income. Concerns about automation have prompted many in the high-technology industry to argue for basic income as an implication of their business models. U.S. presidential candidate and non-profit founder Andrew Yang has stated that automation caused the loss of 4 million manufacturing jobs in the Midwest and resulted in the election of Donald Trump.[13] The CEO of Tesla, Inc. and SpaceX, Elon Musk, came out in support of basic income and Yang due to automation and AI.[14]

Many technologists believe that automation, among other things, is creating technological unemployment. Journalist Nathan Schneider first highlighted the turn of the "tech elite" to these ideas with an article in Vice magazine which cited Marc Andreessen, Sam Altman, Peter Diamandis and others.[15][16][17] Some studies about automation and jobs validate these concerns. In a report to the Congress, the White House estimated that a worker earning less than $20 an hour in 2010 would eventually lose their job to a machine with 83% probability. Even workers earning as much as $40 an hour faced a probability of 31%.[16] With a rising unemployment rate, poor communities would become more impoverished worldwide. Proponents of universal basic income argue that it could solve many world problems like high work stress and could create more opportunities and efficient and effective work. In a study in Dauphin, Manitoba, only 13% of labor decreased from a much higher expected number.[18] In a study in several Indian villages, basic income in the region raised the education rate of young people by 25%.[19]

Besides technological unemployment, some tech-industry experts worry that automation would destabilize the labor market or increase economic inequality. One example is Chris Hughes, co-founder of both Facebook and Economic Security Project. Automation has been happening for hundreds of years and while it has not permanently reduced the employment rate, it has constantly caused employment instability. It displaces workers who spend their lives learning skills that become outmoded and forces them into unskilled labor. Paul Vallée, a Canadian tech-entrepreneur and CEO of Pythian, argues that automation is at least as likely to increase poverty and reduce social mobility as it is to create ever-increasing unemployment rate. At the 2016 North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress in Winnipeg, Vallée examined slavery as a historical example of a period in which capital (African slaves) could do the same things that paid labor (poor whites) could do. He found that slavery did not cause massive unemployment among poor whites, but instead it increased economic inequality and lowered social mobility.[20]

Bad behavior[edit]

Some worry that some people would spend a basic income on alcohol and other drugs.[21][22] However, studies of the impact of direct cash transfer programs provide evidence to the contrary. A 2014 World Bank review of 30 scientific studies concludes: "Concerns about the use of cash transfers for alcohol and tobacco consumption are unfounded".[23]

Basic income as a part of a post-capitalistic economic system[edit]

Harry Shutt proposed basic income and other measures to make all or most enterprises collective rather than private. These measures would create a post-capitalist economic system.[24]

Erik Olin Wright characterizes basic income as a project for reforming capitalism into an economic system by empowering labor in relation to capital, granting labor greater bargaining power with employers in labor markets which can gradually de-commodify labor by decoupling work from income. This would allow for an expansion in scope of the social economy by granting citizens greater means to pursue activities (such as the pursuit of art) that do not yield strong financial returns.[25]

James Meade advocated for a social dividend scheme funded by publicly owned productive assets.[26] Russell argued for a basic income alongside public ownership as a means of shortening the average working day and achieving full employment.[27]

Economists and sociologists have advocated for a form of basic income as a way to distribute economic profits of publicly owned enterprises to benefit the entire population, also referred to as a social dividend, where the basic income payment represents the return to each citizen on the capital owned by society. These systems would be directly financed from returns on publicly owned assets and are featured as major components of many models of market socialism.[28]

Guy Standing has proposed financing a social dividend from a democratically-accountable sovereign wealth fund built up primarily from the proceeds of a levy on rentier income derived from ownership or control of assets—physical, financial and intellectual.[29][30] Herman Daly, considered as one of the founders of ecologism, argued primarily for a zero growth economy within the ecological limits of the planet. To have such a green and sustainable economy, including basic economic welfare and security to all people, he wrote a lot about the need for structural reforms of the capitalistic system, including basic income, monetary reform, land value tax, trade reforms and higher eco-taxes (taxes on pollution and carbon dioxide). For him, basic income was part of a larger structural change of the economic system towards a more green and sustainable system.

Different ideological arguments[edit]

  • Georgist views: geolibertarians seek to synthesize propertarian libertarianism and a geoist (or Georgist) philosophy of land as unowned commons or equally owned by all people, citing the classical economic distinction between unimproved land and private property. The rental value of land is produced by the labors of the community and, as such, rightly belongs to the community at large and not solely to the landholder. A land value tax (LVT) is levied as an annual fee for exclusive access to a section of earth which is collected and redistributed to the community either through public goods, such as public security or a court system, or in the form of a basic guaranteed income called a citizen's dividend. Geolibertarians view the LVT as a single tax to replace all other methods of taxation which are deemed unjust violations of the non-aggression principle.
  • Conservative views: support for basic income has been expressed by several people associated with conservative political views. While adherents of such views generally favor minimization or abolition of the public provision of welfare services, some have cited basic income as a viable strategy to reduce the amount of bureaucratic administration that is prevalent in many contemporary welfare systems. Others have contended that it could also act as a form of compensation for fiat currency inflation.[31][32][33]
  • Feminist views: feminist views on basic income are loosely divided into two opposing views. One view supports basic income as a means of guaranteeing minimum financial independence for women and of recognizing women's unpaid work in the home. The opposing feminist view opposes basic income as something that might discourage women from participation in the workforce—reinforcing traditional gender roles of women belonging in the private area and men in the public area.[34][35]

Economic critique[edit]

In 2016, the IGM Economic Experts panel at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business was asked if "Granting every American citizen over 21-years old a universal basic income of $13,000 a year—financed by eliminating all transfer programs (including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, housing subsidies, household welfare payments, and farm and corporate subsidies)—would be better policy than the status quo", 58 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed, 19 percent were uncertain and 2 percent agreed. Cost was an issue for those who disagreed as well as a lack of optimization in the structure proposed. Daron Acemoglu, Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expressed these doubts in the survey: "Current US status quo is horrible. A more efficient and generous social safety net is needed. But UBI is expensive and not generous enough".[36] Eric Maskin has stated that "a minimum income makes sense, but not at the cost of eliminating Social Security and Medicare".[37] Simeon Djankov, professor at the London School of Economics, argues the costs of a generous system are prohibitive.[38]

Another critique comes from the far-left. Douglas Rushkoff, a professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at the City University of New York, suggests that universal basic income is another way that "obviates the need for people to consider true alternatives to living lives as passive consumers". He sees it as a sophisticated way for corporations to get richer on the expense of public money.[39]

Economic growth[edit]

Some proponents have argued that basic income can increase economic growth because it would sustain people while they invest in education to get interesting and well-paid jobs.[40][21] However, there is also a discussion of basic income within the degrowth movement, which argues against economic growth.[41]

Employment[edit]

One argument against basic income is that if people have free and unconditional money, they would "get lazy" and not work as much.[42][43][44] Critics argue that less work means less tax revenue and hence less money for the state and cities to fund public projects. The degree of any disincentive to employment because of basic income would likely depend on how generous the basic income was.

Some studies have looked at employment levels during the experiments with basic income and negative income tax and similar systems. In the negative income tax-experiments in United States in the 1970s, for example, there was a five percent decline in the hours worked. The work reduction was largest for second earners in two-earner households and weakest for the main earner. The reduction in hours was higher when the benefit was higher. Participants in these experiments knew that the experiment was limited in time.[43]

In the Mincome experiment in rural Dauphin, Manitoba also in the 1970s, there were also slight reductions in hours worked during the experiment. However, the only two groups who worked significantly less were new mothers and teenagers working to support their families. New mothers spent this time with their infant children, and working teenagers put significant additional time into their schooling.[45] Under Mincome, "[t]he reduction of work effort was modest: about one per cent for men, three per cent for wives, and five per cent for unmarried women".[46]

A recent study of the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend—the largest scale universal basic income program in the United States which has run since 1976—seems to show this belief is untrue. The researchers—Damon Jones from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and Ioana Marinescu from the University of Pennsylvania School of Public Policy and Practice—maintain that although there is a small decrease in work by recipients due to reasons like those in the Manitoba experiment, there has been a 17 percent increase in part-time jobs. The authors theorize that employment remained steady, because the extra income that let people buy more also increased demand for service jobs. This finding is consistent with the economic data of the time. No effect was seen when it came to jobs in manufacturing, which produce exports. Essentially, the authors argue, macro-economic effects of higher spending supported overall employment. To use an illustrative but hypothetical example, someone who uses the dividend to help with car payments can cut back on hours working as a cashier at a local grocery store. Because more people are spending more, the store must replace the worker who started working less. Meanwhile, distribution of the dividend doesn't affect the international demand for oil and the jobs connected to it.[47][48] Jones and Marinescu found instead that the larger scale of the program is what allows it to work and not dissuade people out of the work force.

Another study that contradicted such decline in work incentive was a pilot project implemented in 2008 and 2009 in the Namibian village of Omitara. The study found that economic activity actually increased, particularly through the launch of small businesses, and reinforcement of the local market by increasing households' buying power.[49] However, the residents of Omitara were described as suffering "dehumanising levels of poverty" before the introduction of the pilot, and as such the project's relevance to potential implementations in developed economies is unknown.[50]

James Meade states that a return to full employment can only be achieved if, among other things, workers offer their services at a low enough price that the required wage for unskilled labor would be too low to generate a socially desirable distribution of income. He therefore concludes that a "citizen's income" is necessary to achieve full employment without suffering stagnant or negative growth in wages.[51]

If there is a disincentive to employment because of basic income, the magnitude of such a disincentive may depend on how generous the basic income was. Some campaigners in Switzerland have suggested a level that would be only just liveable, arguing that people would want to supplement it.[52]

Tim Worstall, a writer, blogger and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute,[53] has argued that traditional welfare schemes create a disincentive to work because such schemes typically cause people to lose benefits at around the same rate that their income rises (a form of welfare trap where the marginal tax rate is 100 percent). He has asserted that this particular disincentive is not a property shared by basic income since the rate of increase is positive at all incomes.[54]

Freedom[edit]

Philippe Van Parijs has argued that basic income at the highest sustainable level is needed to support real freedom, or the freedom to do whatever one "might want to do".[55] By this, Van Parijs means that all people should be free to use the resources of the Earth and the "external assets" people make out of them to do whatever they want. Money is like an access ticket to use those resources, and so to make people equally free to do what they want with world assets, the government should give each individual as many such access tickets as possible—that is, the highest sustainable basic income.

Karl Widerquist and others have proposed a theory of freedom in which basic income is needed to protect the power to refuse work[56] which can be summarized as follows. If the resources necessary to an individual's survival are controlled by another group, that individual has no reasonable choice other than to do whatever the resource-controlling group demands. Before the establishment of governments and landlords, individuals had direct access to the resources they needed to survive. Today, resources necessary for the production of food, shelter and clothing have been privatized in such a way that some have gotten a share and others have not.

Therefore, the argument goes that the owners of those resources owe compensation back to non-owners, sufficient at least for them to purchase the resources or goods necessary to sustain their basic needs. This redistribution must be unconditional because people can consider themselves free only if they are not forced to spend all their time doing the bidding of others simply to provide basic necessities to themselves and their families.[21] Under this argument, personal, political and religious freedom are worth little without the power to say no. In this view, basic income provides an economic freedom which—combined with political freedom, freedom of belief and personal freedom—establish each individual's status as a free person.

Gender equality[edit]

The Scottish economist Ailsa McKay has argued that basic income is a way to promote gender equality.[57][58] She noted in 2001 that "social policy reform should take account of all gender inequalities and not just those relating to the traditional labor market" and that "the citizens' basic income model can be a tool for promoting gender-neutral social citizenship rights".[57]

Women perform the majority of unpaid care work around the world. In fact, if unpaid care work performed by women were compensated at even just minimum wage around the world, this would boost measured global economic output by $12 trillion, which is 11% of global economic output and is equivalent to the annual economic output of China, according to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute.[59] Thus basic income would be a way to compensate women for the essential care services they already perform and to raise the standard of living for women who devote a substantial portion of their time to unpaid care work.

Poverty reduction[edit]

Advocates of basic income often argue that it has the potential to reduce or even eradicate poverty.[60]

According to a randomized controlled study in the Rarieda District of Kenya run by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the Give Directly program, the impact of an uncondition was that for every $1,000 disbursed, there was a $270 increase in earnings, a $430 increase in assets, and a $330 increase in nutrition spending, with a 0% effect on alcohol or tobacco spending.[61]

Milton Friedman, a renowned economist, supported UBI, reasoning that it would help to reduce poverty. He said:

The virtue of [a negative income tax] is precisely that it treats everyone the same way. [...] [T]here’s none of this unfortunate discrimination among people.[62]

Martin Luther King Jr. was also an advocate of UBI, as he believed that a basic income was a necessity that would help to reduce poverty, regardless of race, religion or social class. In King's last book before his assassination Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, he said:

I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.[63]

Reduction of medical costs[edit]

The Canadian Medical Association passed a motion in 2015 in clear support of basic income and for basic income trials in Canada.[64]

British journalist Paul Mason has stated that universal basic income would probably reduce the high medical costs associated with diseases of poverty. According to Mason, stress diseases like high blood pressure, type II diabetes and the like would probably become less common.[65]

Transparency and administrative efficiency[edit]

Basic income is potentially a much simpler and more transparent welfare system than welfare states currently use.[66] Instead of separate welfare programs (including unemployment insurance, child support, pensions, disability, housing support) it could be one income, or it could be a basic payment that welfare programs could add to.[67] This could require less paperwork and bureaucracy to check eligibility. The lack of means test or similar bureaucracy would allow for saving on social welfare which could be put towards the grant. The Basic Income Earth Network claims that basic income costs less than current means-tested social welfare benefits, and has proposed an implementation that it claims is financially viable.[68][69]

A real world example of how basic income is being implemented to save money can be seen in the program that is being conducted by the Netherlands in a few cities. The city councillor for the city of Nijmegen, Lisa Westerveld had this to say in an interview: “In Nijmegen we get £88m to give to people on welfare, but it costs £15m a year for the civil servants running the bureaucracy of the current system".[70] Her view is also shared by Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman who believes the Netherlands welfare system is flawed and also economist Loek Groot who believes the country welfare system wastes too much money. Outcomes of this program will be analysed by eminent economist Loek Groot, a professor at the University of Utrecht who hopes to learn if a guaranteed income might be a more effective approach.[71] However, other proponents argue for adding basic income to existing welfare grants, rather than replacing them.

Wage slavery and alienation[edit]

Frances Fox Piven argues that an income guarantee would benefit all workers by liberating them from the anxiety that results from the "tyranny of wage slavery" and provide opportunities for people to pursue different occupations and develop untapped potentials for creativity.[72] André Gorz saw basic income as a necessary adaptation to the increasing automation of work, yet basic income also enables workers to overcome alienation in work and life and to increase their amount of leisure time.[73]

These arguments imply that a universal basic income, or UBI, would give people enough freedom to pursue work that is satisfactory or interesting even if that work does not pay enough to sustain their everyday living. One example is that of Nelle Harper Lee, who lived as a single woman in New York City in the 1950s, writing in her free time and supporting herself by working part-time as an airline clerk. She had written several long stories, but achieved no success of note. One Christmas in the late fifties, a generous friend gave her a year's wages as a gift with the note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas". A year later, Lee had produced a draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize.[74][75] Most proponents of UBI argue that the net creative output from even a small percentage of basic income subscribers would be a significant contributor to human productivity, one that might be lost if these people are not given the opportunity to pursue work that is interesting to them.

Welfare trap[edit]

The welfare trap or poverty trap is a proposed problem with means-tested welfare. Recipients of means-tested welfare may be implicitly encouraged to remain on welfare due to economic penalties for transitioning off of welfare. These penalties include loss of welfare and possibly higher tax rates. Opponents claim that this creates a harsh marginal tax for those rising out of poverty. A 2013 Cato Institute study claimed that workers could accumulate more wealth from the welfare system than they could from a minimum wage job in at least nine European countries. In three of them, namely Austria, Croatia and Denmark, the marginal tax rate was nearly 100%.[76][77]

Proponents of universal basic income claim that it could eliminate welfare traps by removing conditions to receive such an income, but large-scale experiments have not yet produced clear results.[78]

Pilot programs and experiments[edit]

Omitara, one of the two poor villages in Namibia where a local basic income was tested in 2008–2009

Since the 1960s and in particular after 2010, there has been a number of so-called basic income pilots. Among them the following:

  • Experiments with negative income tax in United States and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • The province of Manitoba, Canada, experimented with Mincome, a basic guaranteed income in the 1970s.[79]
  • The basic income grant in Namibia, launched in 2008 and ended in 2009.[80]
  • An independent pilot implemented in São Paulo, Brazil.[81]
  • Basic income trials in several villages in India,[82] whose government has proposed a guaranteed basic income for all citizens.[83]
  • The GiveDirectly experiment in Nairobi, Kenya—the biggest and longest basic income pilot as of 2017.[84]
  • An experiment in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, launched in early 2017, that is testing different rates of aid.[83]
  • A three-year basic income pilot that the Ontario provincial government, Canada, launched in the cities of Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay in July 2017.[85] Although called basic income, it was only made available to those with a low income and funding would be removed if they obtained employment,[86] making it more related to the current welfare system than actual basic income. The pilot project was cancelled on 31 July 2018 by the newly elected Progressive Conservative government under Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
  • A two-year pilot the Finnish government began in January 2017 which involves 2,000 subjects[87][88] In April 2018, the Finnish government rejected a request for funds to extend and expand the program from Kela (Finland's social security agency).[89]
  • A project called Eight in a village in Fort Portal, Uganda, that a nonprofit organization launched in January 2017 which provides income for 56 adults and 88 children through mobile money.[90]

Examples of payments with similarities[edit]

Alaska Permanent Fund[edit]

The Permanent Fund of Alaska in the United States provides a kind of basic income based on the oil and gas revenues of the state to nearly all state residents, however the payment is not high enough to cover basic expenses and is not a fixed, guaranteed amount. For these reasons it is not considered a basic income.

During his 2020 presidential campaign, founder of the nonprofit Venture for America (VFA) Andrew Yang used the Alaska Permanent Fund as evidence that Republicans can be convinced to implement a dividend. The entrepreneur and philanthropist claims it has improved children’s health, created thousands of jobs, and decreased income inequality.[91]

During her 2016 presidential campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton considered including a policy similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund called Alaska for America as part of her platform after reading Peter Barnes's book on the subject With Liberty and Dividends for All. Ultimately, Clinton decided not to, stating in her 2016 presidential election memoir What Happened: "Unfortunately, we couldn't make the numbers work".[92] However, Clinton also said in retrospect: "I wonder now whether we should have thrown caution to the wind and embraced 'Alaska for America' as a long-term goal and figured out the details later", considering that former Republican Treasury Secretaries James Baker and Henry Paulson have also proposed a similar nationwide policy.[93][94]

Quasi-UBI programs[edit]

  • Old age pension is a payment which in some countries is guaranteed to all citizens above a certain age. The only difference from Basic Income is that it is restricted to people over a certain age.
  • Child benefit – A similar program to old pensions but is restricted to children, or more precisely it is given to parents for each child they have. It is also like Basic Income except that is restricted to children.
  • Conditional Cash Transfer – This is also a regular payment given to families, however it is only given to the poor and is usually dependent on basic conditions such as sending their children to school or having them vaccinated. Programs include Bolsa Familia in Brazil and a similar program in México.
  • Guaranteed Minimum Income – Despite the name, this differs from a Basic Income in that it is restricted only to those in search of work. Example programs are unemployment benefit in the UK and RSA in France.

Bolsa Família is a large social welfare program in Brazil that provides money to many poor families in the country. The system is related to basic income, but has more conditions, like asking the recipients to keep their children in school until graduation. Brazilian Senator Eduardo Suplicy championed a law that ultimately passed in 2004 that declared Bolsa Família a first step towards a national basic income. However, the program has not yet been expanded in that direction.

Rythu Bandhu scheme, is a welfare scheme started on 10 May 2018 aimed towards helping farmers that is being implemented by the state of Telangana in India where each farmland owner gets a fixed amount of money ₹4000 per acre twice a year for rabi and kharif harvests. A budget allocation of ₹12,000 crores($138 billion at the time of conversion) was made in 2018–2019 state budget, the scheme offers a financial help of ₹8,000 per year to each farmer (two crops) and there is no cap on money disbursed to number of acres of land owned and it does not discriminate between rich or poor land owners.[95] The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been monitoring the program and is doing a study they have yet to published, but their preliminary results already show promising results in getting farmers funding they need to invest in farming—procuring fertilizers, seeds, pesticides and other inputs—which serves the purpose of the scheme. The first phase of the survey concluded that 85% of farmers received cheques for amounts ranging from ₹1,000 to ₹20,000 for farm land comprising less than an acre to about five acres and about 10% of farmers received cheques for amounts above ₹20,000 to ₹50,000 and only 1% of farmers got amounts more than ₹50,000. The spending pattern revealed that a large chunk, 28.5% of farmers opted to buy seed, about 18% spent the money on fertilizer, 15.4% on new agricultural assets, including farm equipment, 8.6% on pesticides and some used it to engage farm labor and only 4.4% of beneficiaries said they utilized it for household consumption and a minuscule percentage for repayment of loans.[96] The scheme received a high satisfaction rate of 92% from farmers since other forms of capital investment like welfare or loans had many strings attached to it and would not reach the farmers before the cropping season starts, many other states and countries are following the development of the program to see if they can implement it for their farmers. Since farmers worldwide are facing many difficulties and in a lot of countries it has become unprofitable, governments are either proving subsidies, welfare or loans, but this a new type of program that is considered as an embryonic UBI or quasi-UBI to replace traditional systems of agricultural support.[97]

Citizen Capitalism is a supplemental income program proposed by the legal scholar Lynn Stout and her co-authors Tamara Belinfanti and Sergio Gramitto in their book Citizen Capitalism: How A Universal Fund Can Provide Influence and Income to All which was published in 2019. In the book, Stout and her co-authors propose the building of a not-for-profit universal fund composed of shares donated by corporations and philanthropic individuals in which every American would receive one share. These shares could not be sold, bequeathed, donated, or borrowed against, but each "citizen shareholder" would receive an even portion of the net dividends paid out by shares in the fund, therefore contributing to the amelioration of income inequality. Each shareholder would also receive additional influence in the form of a vote (corresponding to their shares in the fund), providing in theory for a significantly expanded degree of citizen engagement in the role that public corporations play in American society.[98]

Basic income in crypto currencies and as part of social media apps[edit]

Nimses is a concept that offers universal basic income to every member of its system.[99] The idea of Nimses consists of time-based currency called Nim (1 nim = 1 minute of life). Every person in Nimses receives nims that can be spent on different goods and services. This concept was initially adopted in Eastern Europe.[100]

Electroneum is a cryptocurrency project which uses a mobile application to pay users.[101] The first KYC/AML compliant cryptocurrency, Electroneum enables users to mine[102] using their mobile phone through a simulated mining system. The system pays up to $3.00 per month to its users, with the goal of enabling the world's unbanked population with financial freedom.[103] The cryptocurrency can currently be used to purchase mobile top-ups from the South African telecommunications company The Unlimited[104] as well as to transact with any business that has integrated the Electroneum API, or directly between individuals.

National debates[edit]

Basic Income is debated in many countries. There have also been several basic income experiments held in various countries such as Namibia, Kenya and Canada as discussed elsewhere on this page. The policy was discussed by the Indian Ministry of Finance in an economic survey in 2017,[105] and a green paper was commissioned on the topic by the Government of Ireland in 2002.[106] There are also a number of countries such as Ireland and Mexico that have programs with elements reminiscent of UBI such as child benefit, old age pensions or conditional cash transfers, but these are usually not discussed in relation to Basic Income. So far no country has introduced an unconditional basic income as law.

Public opinion[edit]

Support for a universal basic income varies widely across Europe, as shown by a recent wave of the European Social Survey. A high share of the population tends to support the scheme in southern and central eastern European Union countries, while support tends to be lower in western European countries such as France and Germany, and even lower in Scandinavian countries such as Norway and Sweden. Individuals who face greater economic insecurity, for instance because of low income and unemployment tend to be more supportive of a basic income [107]

Petitions, polls and referendums[edit]

  • 2008: an official petition for basic income was started in Germany by Susanne Wiest.[108] The petition was accepted and Susanne Wiest was invited for a hearing at the German parliament's Commission of Petitions. After the hearing, the petition was closed as "unrealizable".[109]
  • 2013–2014: a European Citizens' Initiative collected 280,000 signatures demanding that the European Commission studies the concept of an unconditional basic income.[110]
  • 2015: a citizen's initiative in Spain received 185,000 signatures, short of the required number to mandate that parliament discuss the proposal.[111]
  • 2016: the world's first universal basic income referendum in Switzerland on 5 June 2016 was rejected with a 76.9% majority.[1][112] Also in 2016, a poll showed that 58% of the EU's population are aware of basic income, and 65% would vote in favor of the idea.[113]
  • 2017: Politico/Morning Consult asked 1,994 American people about their opinions on several political issues. One question addressed attitudes towards a national basic income in the United States; 43% either "strongly supported" or "somewhat supported" the idea.[114]
  • 2019: in a September poll conducted by The Hill and HarrisX, 49% of U.S. registered voters support basic income, up 6% from a similar survey conducted six months prior.[115]

Prominent advocates[edit]

Prominent contemporary advocates include Economics Nobel Prize winners Peter Diamond and Christopher Pissarides,[116] tech investor and engineer Elon Musk,[117] political philosopher Philippe Van Parijs,[118] former finance minister of Greece Yanis Varoufakis,[119] Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,[120][121] and entrepreneur and non-profit founder Andrew Yang, who is running for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 United States presidential election on a platform of instituting a universal basic income called the Freedom Dividend.[122]

Prominent critics[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]



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